7 PR Tips For Digital Reputation Management

One foundation of a good public relations campaign is reputation management. Whether for a brand or an individual, most good PR people spend their time helping internal or external clients create a positive perception among key audiences or building a specific kind of reputation in the marketplace.

The growth of social and digital media, of course, presents both challenges and opportunities for reputation management. Digital content like customer reviews, blog posts, or social updates can help tell a story about professional expertise or insights. Conversely, the absence of a digital footprint can raise questions about career achievements or professional standing. It pays to stand out — but in a positive way.

The good news is there are tenets of reputation management that apply both professional and personal branding. Here’s how any professional can borrow PR expertise to build the reputation they want to convey to prospects, peers, and employers.

Maximize your digital footprint

You can’t manage everything on the web, but there’s plenty that is under your own control, and the first step is to optimize all the pages you own. Create personal and business sites that you manage where possible – on all search and social platforms. Make sure you own the domains for your name, and keep your information updated. Be present on key social media platforms, and post proactively. If it’s too overwhelming to make an impact on every platform, select the three most relevant ones and commit an hour a day to posting and responding to professional commentary. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are likely to be the most useful for digital reputation-building, and all are well optimized by Google.

Understand SEO basics

You don’t need to hire an SEO agency or be a search expert to take advantage of SEO principles, but it helps to grasp the basics. For most professionals, it comes down to an optimized web presence, regular production of fresh, relevant, high-quality content, and judicious use of relevant keywords. The first step is the creation of a website or page including the very terms and keywords that people searching for your expertise will use. It’s helpful to think like someone looking for your particular expertise; for example, our website emphasizes phrases like “top New York PR agency” and “best technology PR” instead of less searchable copy like “our clients love us.”  The most challenging piece for most professionals is content production, because it’s time-consuming, and it may not make a difference for several months. But Google rewards fresh, relevant content, so it pays to invest time in blogging, social updates, and comments on professional community sites. 

Don’t post or email anything you wouldn’t want made public

This includes social media, where an impulsive post or joke gone wrong can have real consequences…. just ask Justine Sacco. New college grads and others entering the labor market have started to understand this, but unfortunate mistakes happen. It may be a tougher lesson for more established professionals, possibly because they have a false sense of security about presumably private communications like email. The point is, almost no digital communication is really private.

Cultivate advocates

Networking, both on and offline, is key to building a resilient reputation for professionalism or for a specific type of expertise. Become a member of professional online communities; be known for your insights, collegiality, or responsiveness. Be generous with your time, ideas, and feedback. Participation in a professional community will offer a payback in search ranking support, reputation enhancement, and new relationships.

Be a thought leader

My grandmother used to say, small people talk about other people, big people talk about ideas. Okay, the advice is a little shopworn, and not everyone can or wants to be an industry thought leader. But aligning your name and/or company to a central idea, mission, or unique aspect of your identity is a simple and authentic way to build your reputation both on and offline. It should appear in your LinkedIn profile, on your website, your Twitter bio, and be frequently mentioned in the content you create.

Tell your story

The best way to do this is by blogging. Yes, it’s a serious commitment of time and ideas and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, because an out-of-date blog sends a bad message. But weekly posts about the problems, issues, and insights relevant to clients, customers, prospective employers, and potential employees is the single most powerful way to build a reputation in sync with professional goals. If a regular blog is too much, consider becoming a contributor of guest posts to the most well-read blogs or publications in your industry.

Learn how to apologize

Someone criticizes you on social media, or a negative review of your business is posted. Don’t overreact, but do respond – with professionalism. If there’s a legitimate gripe, accept responsibility, apologize, and take steps to correct the situation. It’s amazing how humanizing a humble response to criticism can be for a business brand.

2017 PR Horror Stories And Lessons Learned

Whether you’re working in public relations or another service business these days, things can occasionally get.. well, scary. But Halloween offers an opportunity to reflect on hair-raising business experiences that, if nothing else, make good stories later. The ones below apply mainly to us in the PR trade, but as readers may see, some could apply to anyone. Proceed with caution!

PR tales of terror

The mystery of the empty press event

A client is introducing a new product with interest to the large segment of “family” bloggers. The agency has selected a cool venue, an emcee with audience cred and has even vetted the time period with select journalists. The guest list looks solid, so what could go wrong? Despite best-laid plans, some media events don’t end up being the draw that the agency planned. And, nothing can quite compete with the misery of standing at a bright and shiny media event, with no (or very few) media in attendance. What’s a PR person to do? Not much, unfortunately, except to never let an entire campaign hinge on an event, and to give clients the heads-up for this possibility when weighing options. A thorough look at the risks can help the team decide if, given today’s fractured media environment, an event is the best way to go.

When spokespeople choke

Agencies are usually very involved in determining the best spokesperson to represent a client company and offering customized prep for that spokesperson as well. But, what if the perfect company spokesperson (the founder!)  is also the least articulate? We spent countless hours developing messaging, conducting practice interviews and scripting one spokesperson only to see one bungled interview after another. Despite best efforts, each interview contained inaccuracies, long-winded responses that went nowhere and a general discomfort with the process. Things improved when we were able to convince the company to work with some outside spokespeople who complemented and enhanced the brand messaging in select media situations.

The deadly deception

Somehow, you’re caught in a lie. Maybe a pitch contains bad info, or a story is printed with a key fact wrong. This could be a well-meaning client who just wants to amplify the company background to make it more compelling to a journalist. But beware the negative consequences. If caught in a lie to a journalist, particularly about numbers – market share, sales, downloads, or dates – the story will never see the light of day, or a nasty piece may result.  Journalists get understandably angry when misled, and a rapprochement can take forever. We’ve learned to take the time to educate clients and demand scrupulous adherence to the facts, warts and all, before committing to an announcement or other story pitch. Think your story isn’t good the way it is? An agency can help craft the most interesting version, something we tackled in a recent post.

The evils of missing details

A colleague recalled the time she led the media outreach on a multi-city event for a razor brand. On securing interest in a particular market, she followed up with what she thought was the appropriate media alert for that locales, but it was for an event that had taken place the week before, so the editor was unable to use it. As ominous as that is, the story has a silver lining. The editor was bemused by the snafu and wrote about the event after the fact, resulting in a very good story. Lesson learned: PR is a fast-moving business, but sacrificing accuracy for speed will be a fail every (well nearly every) time.

Ignoring C-suite relationships at your peril

We recently heard of an agency “relieved of its duties” for a client based on a rather flimsy rationale. A little digging revealed that much of the good work done by the agency failed to reach the C-suite, either by accident or design, but some less than successful in-house efforts seemed to place blame on the agency – and that news did travel upward. The takeaway here is to establish contact with senior management early and often. If the precedent for involving the CEO (or at the very least cc-ing those in charge) is set up early in the relationship, there is far less chance of key decision-makers missing important communications.

Beware the overpromise when it comes to media coverage

Even the most seasoned PR pro is taken aback when a journalist commits to a story and backs out at the last minute. Sometimes the story doesn’t live up to the reporter’s expectations or a bigger story came along and bumped yours. The point is, develop a sound contingency plan for this disappointing turn of events. It all starts by managing expectations in the first place. From early on in the campaign, the client and the agency should have thoughtful conversations on how the media operate, acknowledging that while journalists are never obligated to cover anything, the agency will employ all of its know-how and strategic insight to make a story happen.  At the same time, it’s important for the account team to have more than one journalist to pitch at any one time and not put all the eggs in one media basket.

The communications “black hole”

No agency is immune to the potential client that engages firms in creating proposals before disappearing like Barb in “Stranger Things.” When an agency receives a suitable request for proposal, they’re naturally eager to win. But the dark side is that some companies fail at the process, either deciding against retaining any firm, or, horror of horrors, they’re just looking for free ideas, not an agency relationship. It takes a seasoned eye to catch some of the red flags early on. Look for senior involvement in the process. If the entire search is being handled by an assistant with a year’s experience, that’s a bad sign. Or, if the search involves more than a handful of agencies, this could signal a lack of seriousness about actually selecting a firm. Finally, if the whole process is taking an inordinate amount of time to complete with little or no communication, that may mean that an agency should cut its losses and move on.

The horrible hire

Sometimes a potential new staffer appears to be the answer to an agency’s prayers. The candidate has all the right stuff, aces the interview and comes in with great intentions. And then the behavior problems begin. We’ve seen them all, including: the chronically late employee; the constantly-on-a- smartphone AE; and the underminer, who pits one team member against another. But probably the worst offender is the account executive who subtly disrespects clients, who cuts off the client in conversation or argues a bit too forcefully for a recommendation. Better vetting early on can help avoid the bad hire, but the best advice here is probably found in the adage to be slow to hire and quick to fire.

5 Signs Your Company Isn’t Ready For A PR Firm…Yet

Recently we addressed some surefire signs that a start-up or other business is ready to hire a public relations agency. Interestingly, there are also some very good reasons to hold off on taking that step. Here are some crucial benchmarks to consider.

A PR agency readiness checklist

To set up a PR partnership for success, it’s important to take the temperature in the C-suite and to look the company up and down to assess readiness. Here’s what to consider.

You don’t know what you want.

Even a promising client-agency relationship can get into trouble when the client company is vague about goals, or if individual executives have different ideas about deliverables and outcomes. It’s best to articulate goals, service expectations, and deliverables in the RFP or search document shared with the prospective agency partners, and to seek their input if needed. Any good PR agency will be glad for the opportunity to offer their thoughts.

You have no story.

But, you thought that was the agency’s job, right? Well, it is, but only in part. Before retaining an outside PR firm, an organization should have an idea of the story it wants to tell. As one serial start-up veteran told us, “Once it’s out there, it’s out there, so make it the one you can stand behind for the long haul.” Not all stories have the drama of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s anecdote about being inspired by a police scanner (and its short bursts of information.) And most don’t have the poignancy of Magoosh founder Bhavin Parikh’s experience. He lost his co-founder to lung cancer less than a year after the test prep company began to experience real growth, which certainly heightened the challenges involved. Yet every story has elements of interest, and, most importantly, it must be honest, authentic, and accepted by the company’s most important stakeholders.

There’s no clear company mission.

Similarly, a clear and cogent mission is the heart of any company. It serves to inspire employee engagement, foster customer loyalty, and boost company performance.  The company mission defines what it stands for — its purpose and reason for existence. But many founders launch head-on into business because someone has a great idea for a product or service but very little beyond that. A strong mission statement serves as a set of goals around which employees, clients and customers can rally. Even if the company goal is a very simple one, for example, “To spread the power of optimism” (from t-shirt brand Life is Good), it’s imperative to settle on a mission and believe in it as the company grows and adds marketing, PR and other partners. A PR agency can be an indispensable asset in guiding a nascent company mission and helping to shape a final version, but there’s no point in spinning wheels if the foundation’s not laid. We once worked with an app developer that changed the company’s mission so often that it ultimately “failed to launch.”

Company leadership is in flux.

Today’s B2B public relations is as much about thought leadership as it is about generating earned media or other types of executive visibility. Thought leadership typically involves tapping into the company’s braintrust of key executives to share ideas with relevant audiences. So if an organization is in flux at the top, it may not be a great time to engage PR counsel. We’ve seen examples of infighting, mergers or premature starts that result in a lack of cohesive leadership. And, as a result, it may be difficult for the public relations campaign that demands focus and participation from senior management. Businesses where leadership is in flux should tap a PR expert or agency team for strategic advice ahead of rolling out a campaign.

There’s no one to manage the agency.

Occasionally companies think that a good agency, once retained and brief on business goals, can operate independently, with no client input or involvement. Or, they may mistakenly assign a very junior-level employee to manage the agency team, or place PR under another department where it’s unlikely to thrive, like Customer Relations or HR. Public relations is a considerable investment and an agency relationship is not to be entered into if the company can’t afford the costs involved — both financially and in reasonably senior-level management time.

There’s confusion about what PR can and cannot do for the company.

PR can do a great deal. For example, it’s most effective at packaging a company’s story to resonate with reporters, amplifying a sales and marketing effort, helping shape the image and thought capital of key executives and making news for a brand during “quiet periods.” However, if a potential client is looking at PR as a substitute for advertising, or thinking good PR can overcome a bad product or faulty design, that is a mistake. Any organization that’s unsure about PR’s potential should have a preliminary with a group of agencies about what they feel it can – and cannot – accomplish. That will save time and even tears down the road.

When Corporate CEOs Challenge The President

For many American businesses, the election of Donald Trump was a surprise, but not an unhappy one. They quickly adjusted their projections and looked forward to four years of deregulation and business-friendly policies. But as the first ten months of Trump’s presidency has been roiled in controversy and marked by unforced errors, we find ourselves in divided and divisive times. As a result, some business leaders are embracing PR and advocacy in ways they never anticipated.

Mr. Trump’s response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville was a clear tipping point for many large businesses. Yet even before August, we saw CEOs break with the president on policy issues and personal conduct in unprecedented ways. Some have become advocates on key social and political issues that actively challenge the administration. And with public confidence in our institutions eroding, we’ve seen CEOs from major companies take on the president and his allies on combustible issues, or even start to try to bridge our national divide.

So, how do those executives (and the skilled communicators who represent them) speak out while mitigating the downside risk? Here are how some top companies are taking a stand on divisive matters in the Trump era.

They’re proactive instead of reactive

Much of the corporate advocacy we’ve seen has been in response to issues in the news, like the state-sponsored bathroom bills or the #takeaknee movement among NFL players. But social advocacy works best when it grows out of existing corporate values and the strategies and tactics that communicate them. Smart advocates know their own audiences and what matters to them, and they identify internal and external champions for the positions they articulate. A response to a presidential tweet or the announcement of an executive order shouldn’t come as a surprise; rather, it’s an outgrowth of the company’s philosophy, culture, and values.

They make the case

Principles are important, but so is context. When a technology leader speaks about the need for skilled engineers, or a midwest farm company explains how a labor shortage is impacting its growth, it places emotional issues into a constructive framework for discussion. Criticizing a Muslim immigration ban can trigger reflexive responses from both sides of the issue, but looking at the bigger picture and how business and cultural goals are met through a business-friendly immigration policy is more likely to advance the public discussion. No one does this better than a corporate CEO.
Similarly, positive messaging can help defuse discussion of an emotionally charged issue. Rather than simply attack the administration’s immigration position, many CEOs promoted the contributions of American immigrants, offered practical help to those who needed it, or spoke on behalf of diversity as a core American value.

They tap allies and advocates

Smart CEOs use their own status as employers and the strength of their workforce when communicating an advocacy position. No audience is likely to be more powerful that a multinational corporation’s own workforce. A strong social position may not be as useful for attracting new customers as it is for deepening existing relationships with employees, partners, and existing customers. Successful corporate advocates also look to align with like-minded leaders. The success of businesses in galvanizing public opposition to DACA policy or even the Paris climate agreement repeal (which drew diverse business critics) was in part due to a coordinated response by so many businesses and advocacy organizations.

They invest personal capital

When Dara Khosrowshahi, now chief executive of Uber, was CEO of Expedia, he spoke out against the administration’s travel ban with a uniquely personal point of view. Khosrowshahi referenced his own family’s experience immigrating to the U.S. from Iran in 1978, describing the enormous sense of welcome and comfort they experienced after arriving here. Although Apple CEO Tim Cook guarded his privacy for several years, he was ultimately moved to speak in favor of marriage equality and against “religious freedom” legislation that many in his position view as a thinly veiled license to discriminate against LGBT people.

They wield their economic clout

We’ve seen this in many brands’ decision to drop advertising in “fake news” outlets or those with unacceptable editorial content―and not just with YouTube or Breitbart. Remember the bathroom bill boycotts? Businesses united in a common purpose overcame entrenched positions by local lawmakers. When NBC began promoting Megyn Kelly’s interview with conspiracist Alex Jones, many companies, including J.P. Morgan Chase, cancelled ads on the show, and CMO Kristin Lemkau was vocal about the reasons. Just as consumers have learned to exercise their buying clout, so have large advertisers.

They gauge risk and anticipate pushback

Every worthy action sparks a reaction, naturally. A smart PR team will have a plan for social media pushback or even organized social action like protests or boycotts. The key to handling organized opposition is to overstaff the response. No one welcomes a distraction, but most large brands are experienced and have the internal and external resources to manage a vigorous public debate.
Occasionally a brand will make a stand for good reasons, but without anticipating a negative response from what is typically a small group of vocal critics. When things get hot, the temptation may be to retrench. This is almost always a mistake, because the company will end up swapping one group of critics for another. Opponents smell weakness, employees are confused or disheartened, and media delight at a story with fresh legs. Nothing is worse than a flip-flop.
As global citizens and employers with a huge stake in just about every high-impact issue from climate change to immigration, the world’s largest companies can and should use their leverage―and PR power―to support positive dialogue, pragmatic leadership, and stability in a very chaotic time.

6 Smart Ideas For Fall PR

Fall is a terrific time for creative public relations teams to dream up seasonal ideas that score with media now and through the rest of the year. Once Labor Day is over, many companies refocus on end-of-year goals and work hard to reach their objectives as the fourth quarter looms. A great PR campaign can play a role as well; even if the last three months of the year are already planned, there’s usually room for innovation. Here’s a guide to coming up with solid PR ideas that can be implemented immediately.

Fall into these smart seasonal PR ideas

Scare up some Halloween PR

It’s not too late to conjure clever concepts for coverage this Halloween. Reporters are always looking for last-minute tips for topics as varied as Halloween tips for frugal parents, to adult Halloween wines and cocktails. One way to juice a seasonal story is with interesting and quirky data to update or round it out. For digital shopping app Retale, we conducted a quick survey to determine what parts of the country spend the least and most on Halloween decor (those in the northeast are the cheapskates.) Another good idea: draft a simple byline or blog post on “Scary Customer Stories” or “Nightmare Product Launches.” These can be fun, tongue-in-cheek thought pieces that position a client as a hero or highlight a B2B customer. We do an annual Halloween PR blog post that’s always well-received.

Lead with the weather

The leaves change, hurricanes come, and winter preparations land on the to-do list. Weather may sound boring, but it’s actually a rich story idea with high local relevance. For example, IoT devices for the home can factor into smart pitches on fall clean-up and prep stories. This season’s early (and devastating) Napa Valley fires offered a chance for expert commentary on grape production from our wine industry client, for example. Evergreen stories, defined as those that media cover year in and year out, provide ample opportunity to offer tip-oriented content on a variety of  weather and seasonal subjects to reporters needing to fill space. The change of seasons can also encompass the annual fall clock change in November. This impacts sleep, of course, so we conducted an annual poll on the effects of “falling back” for a mattress company client. We’ve also examined the safety factors involved for women who run outdoors, since the sun sets earlier as winter looms, and the angle scored national coverage for wearable safety app Wearsafe. 

Leverage pop culture

Autumn traditionally means the start of new TV shows, the release of Oscar-contending films and a slew of Broadway shows. Some of the best pitches tie a client product or service to pop culture coverage. Or if a client doesn’t immediately have a tie to a hit show, get creative. For example, we have used intel from ad tech clients to put pitches together on viewer habits or to comment on social media reaction to film and TV news. Fall is also a great time for clients and pundits to prognosticate on winners and losers in different genres based on data. These can be turned into fun, quick and newsworthy pitches that capitalize on current trends and predict longer-term ones.

Strategize for Thanksgiving shopping stories now

For any product or service that is centrally or even tangentially tied to Black Friday, Cyber-Monday, Giving Tuesday or Small Business Saturday, start strategizing now. Begin by reviewing reporters who cover these annual rites every year. See what is typically written and where there’s room for creative twists that can amplify a client’s story. Or, if there is no direct shopping story, offer up something less-expected like “10 Things to do instead of shopping on Black Friday” and weave in an appropriate brand mention. Or, find a meaningful way for a company to get involved with Giving Tuesday or Small Business Saturday. Craft a plan for each “day” and plot story angles, assets, deadlines and a tight media list for each. The clock is ticking!

Get into online and broadcast gift guides

Savvy PR teams have already reached out to long-lead print magazine gift guides for inclusion of branded products, but they’re small in comparison to online and other short-lead gift guides. So the timing is perfect to start outreach to different categories depending on the product or service. Check out consumer lifestyle, men’s, women’s gift guide opportunities, but go much, much deeper to determine who is editing guides for the tech-savvy, fashion-forward, millennial and on and on. Be prepared to send samples to top-tier pubs and pitch early and often – it seems like there are new lists every day starting in November.

Don’t forget the food

Fall brings predictable stories on tailgating, Oktoberfest, and Thanksgiving, leading right into the December maelstrom of holiday eating and drinking. This means clever PR people everywhere are finding ways to link client products and services to holiday meal planning, recipes, room decor, family etiquette during meals and a myriad of other stories. There are ample opportunities even for non-food and drink clients to get in on the action. Think about providing inexpensive entertaining tips, conducting quick surveys on most and least favorite holiday foods and creating infographics and listicles on holiday meal spending. Or, for the right tech client, a very topical look at what happens with social media “food porn” pics at holiday time. Bonus tip: Now is a perfect time to pay extra attention to media inquiry emails from HARO and Profnet for a cornucopia of fall stories in need of sources.

Five Bad Reasons To Rebrand A Business

Word is that, in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, The Weinstein Company is looking to escape its PR disaster with a rebrand. According to Adweek and other trades, the company is quietly reaching out to agencies to discuss a possible assignment, with some accounts saying it wants to change its identity “within 48 hours.”

It seems unlikely that any business would try to rebrand in two days (and the rumors have been floating for at least that long), but no brand image expert could blame Weinstein senior management for wanting to distance the company from the name. Although the Board was smart to terminate Weinstein quickly and condemn his behavior, a rebrand probably won’t accomplish their goals until the crisis is over, and there are signs that more shoes will drop.

A rebranding can be part of a smart strategy for moving past a reputation crisis. The low-cost airline Valujet became AirTran after a fatal crash that was found to be the result of negligence. Who would want to fly Valujet after such a disaster? After Lance Armstrong admitted to years of doping, his foundation attempted to move forward under the Livestrong name, with mixed results. Even the former Kentucky Fried Chicken seemed to take on a slightly more health-oriented image after it slimmed down to become KFC.

But a rebrand isn’t a magic bullet, especially if nothing else has changed for the company involved. And The Weinstein Company’s rush to rebrand in the wake of scandal offers an opportunity to visit each of the circumstances that don’t really stand alone as a rationale to change one’s visual or brand identity. Here are some of the top reasons not to rebrand.

To distract from internal problems

Internal problems are, by definition, inside an organization, so a rebranding to move past institutionalized behavior is like a band-aid on a bullet wound. No rebranding can rebuild a reputation if the would isn’t disinfected and treated. In the case of The Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein’s termination may not be enough in the face of signs of systemic tolerance of sexual harassment by its cofounder.

To generate publicity about the business

If the issue is an absence of news, there are far better and more long-lived ways to generate positive visibility for a company. Only in the cases of extremely large, multinational organizations is a rebranding big news, and in many cases there’s a risk of backlash. Occasionally marketing or communications executives cook up a rebranding because they want to signal a new direction, or even to distract from sluggish business indicators, but it’s nearly always a bad idea.

To signal new management

Sometimes a new CMO will call for a rebrand in order to make his mark, or the arrival of a CEO from outside the company induces thoughts of a new identity. But if the Weinstein lesson tells us anything, it’s about not letting an individual dominate the brand’s identity, or even its strategic direction. The most effective rebrandings are rooted in a company’s business goals and the brand’s relationship with its key audiences, including customers, stakeholders, partners, and employees. If the new arrival doesn’t change the company’s mission, strategic direction, or value proposition, there’s no compelling need to rebrand.

Because everyone’s doing it

Competitive pressures or even category changes can make senior management think a rebranding is in order, but, again, a vague sense that the brand could be left behind isn’t necessarily enough to warrant a full-scale restage.  In the case of a rapidly evolving industry, a new brand identity should symbolize how the business is actually meeting changes and challenges, instead of being a statement on industry status or a shallow marker that it’s up with the times.

To hasten the end of a reputation crisis

The worst thing a company can do is rebrand during a crisis situation. An identity change can certainly work to help signal a fresh direction after a period of reputation damage, but only if the business has legitimately turned the corner on its problems. A sudden rebrand to hasten the resolution of a crisis, at best, won’t take, but it’s also likely to be seen as an attempt to run away from negative publicity or pressure.

7 Signs Your Company Is Ready To Step Up Its PR

At a certain point, most small businesses outgrow their first forays into public relations. These early arrangements can include a junior in-house employee or possibly a “shared” situation where the PR function is wedged into marketing or even customer service. (Bad move.) But they usually fall short as a company grows and sees a need for a more coordinated PR effort.

How to know when to bring in the PR professionals

Knowing the signs that lead to such a decision can help ensure a smooth transition from internal to external team. When considering an agency to handle reputation management and media relations for a company, consider these signs as indicators of the need to boost PR efforts.

The company has secured funding that will enable a leap forward.

As long as the team is ready to be candid and discuss dollars and cents, funding announcements are often the perfect time to align with an experienced PR firm. The right firm can calculate a winning strategy that will craft a well-worded announcement and put it out to the most well-positioned tech or business outlet (often for an exclusive) and follow up with a plan that tells different parts of the company story to different media as the news is rolled out. Most importantly, a funding announcement should set the stage for a newsstream that communicates the company’s longer-term strategy and enables stakeholders and others to “connect the dots.”

Hiring is through the roof with dozens of new positions filled.

News like that doesn’t stay quiet for long. So, before media start coming around to discuss company growth and plans, have a team in place to manage the news, and especially, to determine and brief the spokesperson who is answering questions on the company’s behalf. Up and coming businesses should set ground rules early on regarding who speaks to the press and what is being said. We once worked with a tech company that experienced rapid growth and found itself scrambling when media came calling. Before a PR firm was hired, unfortunately, an assistant to the president gave an interview full of inaccuracies which haunted the company for years.

Your innovative new product is close to launch…but competitors are close behind.

When does the team put out a press release? Should there be a launch party before a new product launch? How to deflect attention from a rival expected to announce any day? These are all questions for a qualified PR firm. Internal marketing folks should be researching and vetting PR firms in the early stages of a product or service launch; looking for agencies with similar experience and capabilities; and developing a short list for leadership to meet ahead of important dates in the product life cycle.

Unfounded rumors are surfacing about the company. 

Good, bad or otherwise, rumors, according to the author John Irving, “don’t care what’s true.” But we in public relations do. And it’s an important function of the job to get ahead of rumors that have just begun to percolate and correct misinformation. This can include everything from reaching out to reporters to fix errors in a story to arranging an interview with a CEO or other company spokesperson to set the record straight. In our experience representing a CEO under the cloud of a looming harassment suit,  facing the inevitable question in a key business media interview proved helpful in getting the story out in an honest and transparent way, minimizing reputation damage.

A round-up story that should have included your new product did not.

Intrepid PR strategists pitch an editor a trend piece on new IoT security or other products and voila, a round-up story with five or six brands appears. It takes that kind of PR know-how to secure coverage that aligns a new product with competitors in a way that elevates an entire category. But nothing feels worse than to be that one product that’s left out of the mix. Early in a company’s evolution when one person has been assigned to PR or no one is actually “minding the store,” these omissions are more likely to happen.

A major outlet is seeking an interview with a key company player.

Without a PR firm in tow, the odds are that a company spokesperson hasn’t been thoroughly prepared to face the media. Media training is one of the key benefits that a professional agency provides. With proper coaching on the myriad issues a reporter may cover, a spokesperson can confidently participate, offer quotes and be an integral part of the positive piece that will result. That coverage will also likely lead to more opportunities for the spokesperson: additional interviews, panels and speaking engagements, for example.

A company crisis is looming.

Ideally, company leadership has had the foresight to engage a PR firm well ahead of any potential events or circumstances that have the potential for negative reputation impact. These include product recalls, data breaches or any issues related to the following:

  • Consumer privacy commitment
  • Response to legislative initiatives
  • Security policies and controls
  • Emerging targeting technologies

Often, a PR firm can help avoid damage altogether, if the team is up and running in a timely manner, or even when brought in on the brink of disaster, the seasoned PR strategist can mitigate major damage. Either way, now is a good time for any company to review its PR needs and put a plan into action.

A PR Trend: The Corporate CEO As Social Advocate

We’re living in divided times, and no PR professional is immune. If it weren’t for historical reminders, like those Hamilton-era honor duels, you’d think our culture is more splintered than ever. Part of what hinders communicators are changes in the news media. The media that once united us has fragmented into highly curated content feeds that mostly reinforce what we already believe. Post-election, the press is derided as “fake news” by some who don’t like the message, and there’s plenty of “real” fake news in our social streams.

Whom do we trust?

Fewer than half of adults say they trust organized religion. Approval of Congress is near an all-time low, and civic engagement has declined. Even science has been politicized and met with greater skepticism than in the past. According to Gallup research on trust in U.S. institutions over the past 40 years, only the military is a clear winner. American confidence in the defense and military industry shows a significant rise, up 15 percentage points since 1973.

Meanwhile, the culture of celebrity still thrives — just look at the current occupant of the White House. And consider the role Jimmy Kimmel played during the latest divisive and very complicated national debate over healthcare. Kimmel seemed to break through where politicians and pundits couldn’t.

Yet in the Trump era, there’s another sector that may have a unique opportunity to step into the breach — the business community, and those who help CEOs communicate.

Big business steps up

Before you laugh, think about the past two years. Certainly the public is cynical about business, particularly certain industries like pharma, banking, and the tech industry as epitomized by Silicon Valley. But in times of chaos, we are seeing established corporations, led by CEOs, become powerful advocates for those who lack a voice.

Big business is in a position to offer a form of civic and social leadership that is very scare in our government or other institutions. And the public relations professionals who serve them can play a role in shaping advocacy campaigns.

Earlier this year business leaders began to speak out as never before on highly politicized issues like climate change, immigration, and LGBTQ rights. We’ve seen the power of corporate advocacy in the controversy over multiple state “bathroom bills” in 2016 and earlier this year, when countless CEOs joined the chorus against legislation that many saw as discriminatory and that they found – if nothing else – bad for business.

Post-election, many businesses mounted a similarly vocal response to the first of the president’s travel bans. Led by technology giants like Google and Apple, more than 100 businesses joined the legal fight against the executive order. Many issued statements supporting sensible immigration and pledged help for those affected by the proposed ban. But events in Charlottesville brought a tipping point. The president’s shambolic reaction to the white nationalist march drew a fierce response that went well beyond political pundits. His remarks spurred rebukes by major business executives like Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who resigned from the presidential council on American manufacturing. “Dump Trump” moves by Under Armour, Intel, and even Walmart followed, as well as public rebukes from many more CEOs.

What’s significant is that the CEOs speaking out aren’t just the usual suspects … the indie brands with loyal followings, like Method, Tom’s Shoes, or even Starbucks. The new brand advocacy leaders are just as likely to be large corporations that aren’t particularly known for advocacy beyond their own interests. This is Big Business with a capital “B.”

Public opinion is mixed on how and why a brand should “take a stand,” but the pressure is growing―along with the opportunity. Look at Tanaya Macheel’s story, “The House Jamie Built: How J.P.  Morgan Chase Became the Industry’s Conscience” in Digiday last month. What category is more loathed than banking? Yet Chase has become “the industry’s conscience”― hyperbolic, maybe, but a template for many similar businesses. Explains Brandwatch’s Kellyn Terry, “The presidential election changed the landscape of social media permanently and majorly. Instead of talking about who’s wearing what designer and meme sharing, people began to need to know who’s on what side of the political divide.”

Brand advocacy has never happened like it’s happening now. And it could be that these pragmatic, profit-driven CEOs are best suited to exert the missing “moderating influence” on the president and his allies — with help from skilled communicators.

Next up — How the most skilled corporate CEOs have embraced advocacy.

How PR Supports "Thought Leaders"

Thought leadership is a common term in most B2B public relations programs. But what does it really mean, and which qualities make a successful thought leader? We examine these questions on behalf of clients and have a blueprint of sorts for developing and supporting thought leadership in a company executive or expert.

What qualities make a successful thought leader?

When we begin working with an executive team, we look for the member or members who are eager to demonstrate their authority and expertise through content development, speaking opportunities, and the like. But desire isn’t always enough. We also look for other qualities.

Walk the walk.

A true thought leader doesn’t just talk. Some CEOs and others get fixed on this buzzword without understanding that their credibility is on the line, and being a thought leader is not about contrived self-promotion. A good rule of thumb when carving out a thought leadership position is to test notions against the “Four I’s” – innovation, information, instruction and inspiration. The goal would be to gain some traction on each of the four. We like to look at what a company is already doing that’s newsworthy, or lessons derived from an initiative that didn’t pan out. One exercise is to probe any innovative or provocative point of view, ideas that advance an industry or flip some previously held notions, or offer predictions for the future. When someone like Elon Musk says that Tesla batteries could be used to replace Puerto Rico’s electrical system, there’s a grain of thought leadership there.

Be open to recommendations.

Often a company leader has the kernel of an interesting idea, but can’t quite articulate it in a way that’s meaningful. This is where the savvy PR team comes in. A skilled team will help mold an executive’s bare-bones concept into something that news media and other audiences will want to hear about. Sometimes, that means simple tweaks to make a generalization more specific, like when our digital publisher client wanted to share expertise on storytelling in healthcare marketing. We helped streamline that broad topic into concrete examples of stories that resonate with newly diagnosed patients.  Or it can be a complete overhaul. All we ask is that our clients remain open and receptive to our thoughts on the subject.

Share and share alike.

Once we are all on the same page about someone’s thought capital, we look for the right avenues to share with target audiences. We develop a content marketing strategy that encompasses:

Expert commentary – weighing in on relevant news

Blogs – an executive’s own, plus a commenting strategy for others

White papers – a great way to demonstrate thought capital in long form to a particular audience

Bylined articles –  which can derive from white papers and other sources, for placement in key verticals, on a number of topics, calendarized to keep a steady flow of solid content

Videos – particularly “how-to” or “behind-the-scenes”

Podcasts – producers are constantly looking for guests and appearances are a great way to help hone interview skills

Speeches – at industry conferences, trade shows and other events which can be repurposed as articles, blog posts and white papers

Books – self or traditionally published, a book  is the most credible way to package a leader’s thinking and is still the clincher for some media decision-makers

Social media – to show some leader personality and to leverage all of the other output

And any other interesting way to share the smarts. The trust earned by “giving it all away” translates into rewards like new business, funding and partnership leads as well as increased media interest.  The best thought leaders offer real value because they share insights that educate and help others succeed. Leadership reputation can be increased substantially by sharing information with colleagues and community.

Invite others onto the stage.

Giving visibility to others in the field, or complementary fields, helps elevate the public conversation and expand spheres of influence. It also gives back. When we encouraged a medical device client to speak on a panel with other science leaders, it opened doors to more speaking invitations and offers to co-write important articles. On a practical level, these kinds of relationships also boost readership and likes and follows to social media posts.

Evolve.

Never rest on past accomplishments. The digital world is changing so fast that yesterday’s pithy commentary is today’s old news. Stay educated and on top of trends and look for natural ways to shake up the industry conversation. Even if something is experimental or really “out there,” it’s beneficial to use a position or platform to advance theories and ask hard, or even uncomfortable, questions. Most companies have multiple audiences, from stakeholders like partners and investors, to employees and customers. It pays to listen to each segment through direct dialogue as well as social media monitoring and customer feedback, to take their temperature and determine how major ideas are received – or if they’re received. This sort of engagement not only informs content strategy, but helps keep a brand connected to its audience in a meaningful way. Feedback is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Top Blogs For PR To Follow

There are many public relations industry blogs that offer know-how on everything from crafting brilliant media pitches to perfecting presentation skills. But how to determine which blogs are me-too, and which are worth your while?  We like to follow bloggers who are superior writers and straight shooters, and whose posts are free of jargon and sales pitches. After that, the blog world is your oyster! There are experts on a number of topics that expand on the basics to share knowledge of trends, data and the greater business world – information to help improve a PR team’s performance and client relationships.

Follow these blogs to increase your PR acumen

To improve writing

Bad Pitch Blog

Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan curate every PR person’s nightmare, the Bad Pitch Blog, dedicated to calling out media pitches that are off-target, poorly written or just bad for any number of reasons. But instead of fearing that a pitch may end up in a post, use the blog for good! Learn what not to write. As the creators tell us, “We started the blog to help folks out more than anything else. Shaming was a way to blow some steam off in the process.” And the 10-year old platform covers both Good & Bad Pitches, which is even more helpful. However, “the good to bad ratio of pitches sent to us? One in every 100” – so there’s definitely a lot left to learn.

The Grammarly Blog

We love the Grammarly Blog because of the depth and breadth of writing insights it holds. It quite literally knows no bounds.There is no excuse for communicating poorly when a writer can obtain anything from instant grammar checks to a wealth of ways to apologize, avoid business jargon and author a better bio. And those tips are just from the “A’s.” Use Grammarly to craft smarter social media posts and business memos as well as take interesting quizzes to determine how understandable a piece of writing may be. It’s a fun way to take all forms of written communications to the next level.

To heighten creativity

trendhunter

How important is it to know there are now pumpkin spice manicures? Or the latest in minimalist time-tracking devices?  Extremely important; how else does a PR team know what story to newsjack or how to build a trend piece? This site is filled with the latest trends in fashion, tech, life, culture, design, business, eco and even “bizarre,” and it’s guaranteed to spark an idea.

CreativeBoom

When the inspiration well has run dry and the team needs a reboot, visit CreativeBoom to be visually stimulated by the most interesting art, design, fashion, typefaces and more. No one knows where the next great idea comes from, but experts in the study of innovation recommend starting with a mechanism that “enables a team to come up with a number of quality concepts to consider.” Sites like CreativeBoom will boost output.

To build better work relationships

Extreme Leadership

Using simple stories to get to the “human” side of leadership is part of what makes Extreme Leadership a valuable read. As we navigate the “relations” part of public relations, we can all use a primer on the value of business friendships, for example.

Harvard Business Review

Whether its in-depth studies on entire industries or disciplines or a personal look at how to help those around you achieve better work-life balance, nothing beats the Harvard Business Review blog. Strategies for companies and entrepreneurs in any field on any topic are all here, and they are easily referenced. Don’t let the Harvard pedigree intimidate; the articles are eminently readable and provide meaningful advice like this piece on the five steps to building a lasting business relationship.

To enhance presentation skills

Presentation Blogger

Working and succeeding in PR or marketing requires top-notch presentation skills – for large and small groups, well-rehearsed or impromptu. Preparation and confidence help, as do many of the tips on this excellent speaking skills blog. The posts cover body language and blueprints for successful talks as well as audience attention tricks and ways to deal with pre-speech anxiety.

TEDTalks

Why not learn from the best? The TEDTalks have set the bar for what makes a smart, engaging, memorable talk on any subject. And the blog gives it all away to any interested party. The posts are instructional gems to help improve speaking, and the platform is full of information to help any PR strategist improve topic selection, craft a presentation, or be more inspiring and persuasive on any subject.

To increase PR, marketing, and advertising industry knowledge

AMA Executive Circle

Want to gain a real-world understanding of marketing and PR strategy? Read the in-depth posts from different experts, including our very own Dorothy Crenshaw, on this highly regarded executive blog.

MuckRack

For the inside scoop on everything you ever wanted to know about media but were afraid to ask, there’s the MuckRack blog. The pieces cover the minutia of media relations with articles like “What are the Ground Rules for Recording a Media Interview” and other in-the-weeds topics.

Ragan’s PR Daily:

A reliable compendium of PR news and PR agency blogs, Ragan’s PR Daily is for hardcore PR pros, as it covers everything from conferences and social media to how PR works in specific industries like sports and politics.

To better retrieve, understand and incorporate newsworthy data

Forrester

Want to rattle off data insights and stats like a pro? Read the Forrester analysts blog. It’s chock-full of incredible research and reports on digital insurance brands to luxury brands and everything in between.

FiveThirtyEight

Using big and small data to add depth and dimension to sports, political and other reporting, celebrity data nerd Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight takes the complicated and makes it digestible. There are plenty of great, usable data “nuggets” to enhance pitches and releases, but, more importantly, the blog offers an immersion in analytical thinking on a range of topical issues.

Finally, there’s AdRants.  OK, it’s actually more advertising and marketing news and trends, but it’s such a fun read, we highly recommend.